International Air Ambulance Flight from the Ukraine to Boston: Race Against Time
In my last post, I began telling the story of MedFlight911’s air medical transport of a young burn victim from the Ukraine to the U.S. Because of the complexity of the situation, it took several days to figure out all the details of the transfer – which had to ensure that the pilots got the duty rest required by law (we used two sets of pilots to accomplish that), had to keep the planes running and the patients safe despite dangerously cold temperatures, and had to ensure a specially-trained medical crew for pediatric patients. We were all deeply saddened by the fact that two of the three children passed away before we arrived in Lviv.
When our air ambulance crew arrived in Lviv, Ukraine, they found a community that had pooled all of its resources to save the life of the surviving child. Before our team could even think about moving the boy, they had to 1) ensure they understood his medical condition so that they could best treat him during the flight; and 2) ensure that he was stabilized for transfer to the air ambulance. That process, which involved running diagnostics, studying lab reports, and evaluating the boy's skin condition (he was burned over 99.5% of his body), took more than four hours (though it’s critical, as the flight medical crew must know everything about the patient’s condition before they assume full responsibility for his care until he arrives at the destination hospital).
Once the medical team – which included a doctor, nurse and respiratory therapist, all with pediatric training – completed their assessment, they began the process of moving the patient into the ground ambulance for the trip to the airport. Because the boy's severe burns made it dangerous to move him in cold weather, the hospital's staff had sealed off hallways and stairwells with plastic sheeting, creating a temperature-controlled tunnel so that he could be safely transferred from his room to the waiting ambulance. A similar tunnel was erected to move the patient from the ground ambulance to the airplane.
Once the boy was safely on the airplane, it was time to take off and begin the 14-hour journey to Boston. The trip involved landing in Scotland to switch pilots (due to the fact that pilots are limited by law to the number of hours they can be “on duty” at a time), as well as stops in Iceland and Canada to refuel. The whole time, the medical crew remained completely focused on the keeping the boy (who was in a medically induced coma) as stable as possible. Because of their dedicated efforts, they were able to deliver the patient to the medical team in Boston in stable condition, and the doctors there later told us how impressed they were with the level of care he'd received during the flight.
It has been several weeks since we completed the transfer – one of the most complicated I've been involved with in my career – and I'm happy to report that the boy is doing well. Though he's still in very serious condition, the doctors in Boston are optimistic about his chances of recovery. While this was a heartbreaking case in many ways, and we were devastated about not being able to save the lives of all three children, we are proud to have helped one child.
I'd of course be remiss if I didn’t recognize the efforts of everyone who helped make this transport happen, including the Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. and the U.S. embassy in the Ukraine, the Red Cross, the medical teams in both Lviv and Boston, and the people of Lviv. This truly was a case of people from around the world coming together to help someone in need, and we're proud to have been part of that effort.